August 16, 2017

The Fundamentals of Worship

John C. Vaughn

Not too long ago, a lady who had agreed to visit our church at the invitation of a friend explained to me why she was returning to her Charismatic megachurch to enjoy its more aerobic service. “I need worship. You people don’t worship here.” That charge certainly got my attention, but the serious reflection that followed did not lead me to incorporate any of her preferences into our services. She was not rejecting what she thought was merely boring; she was rejecting what is actually Biblical. She was not looking for more adoration, but for more adrenaline: a quest that provokes a question, “Which is more fundamental to revitalizing worship?”

Contemporary discussions of worship are often driven by concerns about contemporary styles of worship. Yes, revitalization of worship can be detoured by the roadblocks of ritual or the lack of it. If our focus would be drawn to meaningful revitalization — putting the life back into a thing — then we would do well seek the fundamentals from the Psalms. There we find the word “worship” fifteen times, and it is always a translation of a Hebrew word that means “to prostrate oneself” or “to bow down.” Its first appearance is in Psalm 5:7, where David declares what must be vital before it can be revitalized: “But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.”

Spiritual life begins with God’s mercy. Reverent (“in thy fear”) worship is provoked by the realization of that mercy which draws the worshipper toward God. The argument will be made that the more physically expressive are simply more excited about the mercy they have received. Even if we could yield the point that what seem to be “revellings” are actually a species of reverence, we still come to Psalm 29:2 (cf. 96:9), “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”

Whether we argue that “the beauty of holiness” means no more than “in His holy sanctuary,” or the more liturgically satisfying, “in the splendiferous array of religious vestments,” or even the more practical application, “wear your best to church,” it certainly does not promote the casual approach. It would not do violence to the text to suggest that it means “with the outward expressions of separation.” However we apply the second half of Psalm 29:2, its meaning is undeniably a restatement of the first half, “Give unto Jehovah the glory that He deserves.” His exaltation is at issue; our experience is not.

What is it in the human heart that can shout “Amen” but never sing it? How are some so vocally supportive of the sermon but silent during the song? If actions express attitudes, when the heart is singing, shouldn’t the vocal chords participate? Singing is fundamental to worship. Psalm 66:4 tells us what will accompany the future, universal submission to God: “All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah [Think about that!].” Worship is offered by saved people who reflect their submission in their singing. They recognize that the lost are not the audience of our music — God is.

He is most honored when we are most humbled. That is the theme of Psalm 95:6, “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.” This is no command for empty Romanist ritual nor Islamic pretense. But the admonition is clear: fundamental to worship is humility in the inner man that is expressed by the outer man. The essence is, shall we say, essential: “Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy” (Ps. 99:5; cf. 99:9 and 132:7). Salvation, singing, submission — these are fundamental, but there is bedrock on which even these foundation stones rest.

Fundamental to Biblical worship is the Bible. The Word of God is that which exalts the Name of God. It is that which introduces us to the Son of God, who is God Himself. Psalm 138:2 is God’s word about God’s Word: “I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.” Worship looks to the place of sacrifice: the cross. Its praise is not only for the human experience of God’s “lovingkindness,” but for His “truth.” Since He has magnified His Word above His Name, our worship must magnify His Word. Fundamentally, worship is done by saved people who sing from their hearts in humble submission to God while seeking Him in His Word.


John Vaughn is the President of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International.

(Originally published in FrontLine • November / December 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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